'Baker Street', etching by Bronwen Sleigh, 2009
This etching is printed with dark grey, and a vibrant pink which varies in intensity across the surface where she has wiped away more or less ink to leave a subtle haze. Sleigh's use of colour is lyrical, and unexpected in this context. As Sleigh so ably demonstrates here, print continues to be a powerful and effective medium for original expression and creative engagement. Sleigh is a gifted and innovative printmaker working with a traditional medium - etching - but introducing distinctive painterly qualities through her application of colour, and the character of the mark-making. Her prints show us ordinary unremarkable spaces and prosaic industrial or urban architecture from vertiginous new perspectives; the etchings are arrived at through a process of exploration in two and three dimensions.
She has written eloquently of her working methods, describing how she 'translate[s] places by folding, twisting and abstracting them'. She begins by taking photographs of her chosen location, and these photographs, with their different angles and emphases, guide her in making architectural models which are inspired by the original space but are not literal transcriptions of it. Sleigh then draws from these models, and the imagery evolves again. The architectural motifs are anchored by a mesh of radiating lines characteristic of a diagram or a technical drawing, but the dispassionate precision this might suggest is contradicted by the way in which she makes a positive virtue of the accidental scratches, random marks and scuffs which accumulate through the handling and working of the steel plate.
The process of printmaking is itself very much part of her subject, and this is integral to the finished print. The marks which animate the surface also mirror the weathered, pitted and abraded surfaces of the buildings which inspired the imagery. Indeed Sleigh sees analogies between her chosen subjects and the making of a print, which she has described as "almost industrial", involving as it does the use of acids and solvents, metal plates and tools, and a physical engagement with the materials that unites hands-on craft skills, chemical reactions, and the use of heavy machinery - the printing press.